It’s Hell to Work at the Happiest Place on Earth

Yeweinisht Mesfin aka “Weiny”

Disney is supposedly the cornerstone of every American family’s dream; two and a half kids, a white picket fence, and a family vacation to the Happiest Place on Earth. But the reality of Disney World employees that make your trip extra magical is anything but happy: low wages, employee poverty, a weakened union, and company-proposed “bonuses” that force workers to jump through additional, strenuous hoops in order to receive their justly deserved benefits.

The entire company posted a quarterly net income of $4.42 billion in February and, thanks to the Republican tax cut, the company posted $9.3 billion dollars for 2017. Any proposed bonuses of $1000 for lower level employees would only constitute 8% of a nearly $1.6 billion expected windfall from tax cuts, and the promised bonuses are now bargaining chips meant to force the unions that represent Disney World and Disneyland to agree to lower wage increases of only $.50 or 3%, whichever is larger. Already, the 80,000 nonunion workers saw $250 addition to their paycheck, with a promise of $750 to complete the bonus; the union workers, numbering 38,000 employees, have seen nothing. For a company reported to have pulled in nearly $10 billion in the last year, workers who make the parks run smoothly every single day deserve to have living wages, without the fear of homelessness or food insecurity.

Many employees do suffer from being homeless and are food insecure. For example, nearly 85 % of cast members make less than $15 per hour, and 11% have experienced homelessness in the past two years. Wages at Walt Disney World are 68% lower than the national average, some working for as little as $13,000 per year. Meanwhile, in an attempt to limit the number of housekeeping employees, predominantly women, Walt Disney World offers guests “incentives” in the form of $40 Disney gift cards in exchange for declining housekeeping services each day. Though declining is still in its testing phase, it is a way for the company to save money and cut costs, at the expense of the “mousekeepers” who are employed at the resorts.

While wages at the park for most employees are subpar, housekeepers and custodians at both American parks suffer the most from the lack of a living wage, as seen in the story of Eritrean immigrant Yeweinisht “Weiny” Mesfin. A loyal night custodian in Disney’s California Adventure in Anaheim, Mesfin went missing after Thanksgiving weekend in 2016. She was found dead, on December 19 in her car outside a 24 Hour Fitness Gym. She had suffered a heart attack on November 30, was struggling with homelessness and living in her car in front of the gym she had a membership with so she could take a shower for work. A reliable employee, she worked six days a week, at 48 hours a week, and was unable to afford an apartment even though she worked full time hours. Three days after she went missing, she was automatically terminated as per company policy.

Angered by Disney’s dismissive attitude concerning the plight of Disney employees struggling to secure wage increases sufficient to pull them out of poverty, former custodian and friend of Mesfin, Vanessa Muñoz, wrote of her friend’s death, nearly a year later, “Someone out there on third shift at Disney now wears my Weiny’s beanie, her sweater, shirts and pants. Someone out there is about to give as much as Weiny did for a company that refuses to pay the employees an affordable living wage.” It may be too late for Mesfin, but maids and other employees at Walt Disney deserve living wages as they provide a magical experience for all guests to the parks.

If you could, please sign this petition in solidarity with Disney workers, who are being strong-armed into signing a contract against their interests for the bonuses that they were promised. The Walt Disney World Office number is 407-939-2273. Tell them Weiny sent you. #StopDisneyPoverty

Pay raises, affordable healthcare: Teachers strike across the country

West Virginia teachers, wildcat strikers, on the move

When teachers in West Virginia closed every school in the state for nine days to strike for better wages and better healthcare plans, other educators, and the public around the country, took notice. One of the key issues of the West Virginia teachers was the Public Employee Insurance Agency, or PEIA, and the increasing payments from employees’ paychecks alongside the lack of quality take-home pay for teachers. West Virginian teachers rank 48th in the country in terms of pay, and any raise agreed upon between the West Virginia Education Association and the state would not have been enough to cover the rising PEIA costs.

Instead of caving to the governments’ demands, and suggestions to return to work from the union leaders, West Virginia teachers continued striking two days longer than the union had wanted; when a tentative “agreement” for a five percent raise for teachers and three percent raise for public sector workers was announced by union leaders, the teachers balked, rejecting the agreement and voting to continue the strike, shouting, “We are the union bosses!” and “Back to the table!” The fear would be that the raises would not do anything to fix the more pressing concern of rising healthcare costs, which, teachers argued, would only have short term impact. Chants echoed at the state capitol while the Senate was in session, “Pass that bill or we walk out!” “Hey, hey, whaddya say, fund PEIA!” In the end, instead of a watered down 3-4% raise, the Senate passed a 5% raise and will consider long term action for fixing the state’s public employee healthcare system.

News of the success in the teachers’ strike seems to be emboldening educators in other states. Oklahoma teachers, the lowest paid in the country, are considering a strike, the first major strike since 1990, to demand higher pay from the State Legislature. Teachers in the state are so underpaid that there has been an educator crisis, forcing the state the allow for three day weekends to entice teachers to work in Oklahoma.

On February 26, graduate student workers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign launched a strike to protect tuition waivers, which the university is planning to roll back by allowing academic departments to exclude students in their program from being members of the Graduate Student Union (GEO) bargaining unit. The strike also aims to making graduate education accessible for all students, demanding comprehensive childcare, healthcare and financial provisions to keep access to graduate level education open to poor and working-class people. The “Education for All” proposal was announced on day four of the strike.

In New Jersey, Jersey City educators have voted to strike, demanding relief from the rising cost of insurance. The union and teachers are demanding a reform of a Christie Era law, signed in 2011, called Chapter 78. The law required teachers to begin paying for their healthcare costs by percentages that increased over a four-year phase-in. Now that the four years are over, the district is permitted to allow teachers to pay a lower contribution than Chapter 78 requires, something the school board does not want to give in on. Any raises from the contract would not cover the cost of the healthcare payments, as one special education teacher pointed out, “I’m making less than I was five years ago.” As of today, the teachers are still working without a contract.

The rising tide of labor, like waking a slumbering giant, is a welcome relief form the ongoing attack on unions across the country, especially during the Trump administration. This time, instead of relying on union bosses, teachers relied on a collective, on each other, and on public support. And they’re winning.

University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign graduate students, strikers, on the move


(Photo Credit 1: In These Times / West Virginia Education Association / Facebook) (Photo Credit 2: In These Times / GEO / Facebook)

To the next generations, from a millennial

This is a letter for all the next generations, terrified of the world and dismissed by the older generations. I remember being in Middle School and participating in lockdown drills, hiding in the back of the school while pretending that the school was under attack. I remember moving to different schools after there was a bomb threat that had been called into the school. I didn’t think anything of it, and most likely neither did my parents; it was just protocol, it’s not like anything like that would happen anyway. I remember everyone scoffing at participation trophies, and mocking the hurt Millennials who were too much of an emotional mess. And as I watch the next generations growing into adulthood, I am terrified to see some of my generation taking up their mantle.

We laugh at tide pods, forgetting we grew up with Jackass and the Cinnamon Challenge, the Gallon Milk Challenge, and every stupid thing we did for notoriety and our minutes of fame. We call the next generation Snowflakes, forgetting we were the original Snowflakes. I am watching, horrified, that seventeen year old kids are begging for some action by Congress after the bomb threats and lockdowns from my generation have turned into an all-out massacre of the newest generation. And more than likely, we’ll all forget what happened in the next two days, to be shelved until forty or fifty kids are killed in the next shooting.

To whoever comes after us, you are already better. You have not given up where 26-year-olds like myself have scoffed at the world, because it isn’t our problem; but it is. It will forever be our problem. We condemned the generations before us, the Baby Boomers and the like, for destroying the economy, bankrupting social welfare programs, demanding more in their ever-increasing narcissism, but we have been falling back on their ways. That cannot happen.

To the students who are calling for action from Congress because you are losing friends and teachers from the alarming increase in mass shootings, don’t give up. To the kids who are resisting the destruction of our environment and the rise of intolerance and hate, don’t give up; we all want a better world to give to our children and future generations. To students who fight for debt-free education and knowledge, don’t throw in the towel; knowledge and education is a human right. To younger generations demanding a living wage, we are all there with you; all jobs where we sell our labor should at least equal the cost of living. To the girls and young women protesting unfair dress codes and lack of access to birth control, your body is yours, not something to be controlled and censored by boys and men. You are already better than us for so many reasons, for your optimism and activism in the face of ever growing hatred.

Please continue this, and fight for a better world: a world without hate, violence and death; a world without people working and barely making ends meet; a world where a child can get an education free of the burden of debt and the fear of not making it home that day.

And Millennials, remember that once, not too long ago, we were those “stupid kids” who demanded everything and gave nothing. Our goal in a society is to improve upon it for the generations that come after us. That should forever be our mantra, and right now, that is not our mantra. Instead, we are posting on Facebook about guns and mental illness and making fun of the high school kids without taking a step back into ways we can fight for ourselves and the generations to come. It’s not too late, it’s never too late.


(Photo Credit 1: Affinity) (Photo Credit 2: New York Times / Zachary Fagenson / Reuters)

The Revival of the Poor People’s Campaign and its Effects on Women in Poverty

Bishop William Barber and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis led a mass meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina

With the re-launch of the Poor People’s Campaign over fifty years after the call by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Fight for $15 joined the new movement launch with a one day strike and rallies of low wage service workers across the South, in memory of the Memphis sanitation strike. On Feb. 12, 1968, the strike began after two co-workers died on the job and drew the attention of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr to the location where he was killed.

Across the Mid-south, there were more than 30 demonstrations, and fast-food workers went on strike for a day. The protest served as uniting of the coalition between the Fight for $15 Movement and the Campaign, which focuses on shared goals: the push for a $15 hourly wage, and the right to unionize and the right to organize. Rev. William Barber of North Carolina, one of the co-founders alongside Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, explained, “Both of our movements will do whatever it takes to ensure everyone has a living wage, a strong union and the right to organize for their rights so we can unrig America’s broken politics and lift people of all races out of poverty.” The movement will kick off in May, on Mother’s Day, with six weeks of direct action and nonviolent civil disobedience in effort to address the issues of racism, poverty, militarism and ecological disaster.

The re-launch of the campaign is in response to the Trump administration’s rising hostility and white nationalist backlash to the progress of women and minorities: “We’re witnessing fundamental changing our demographics around the world. We see extremist policies in America today and it’s driven by the growing blackening and browning of America and a fusion of every creed, color and class.”

The federal government has invested only $183 billion of its budget in social programs but has relocated a $630 billion to the Department of Defense for the country’s continuous wars. That money could be spent lifting people out of poverty and helping them get the necessities of food, shelter, heat and air conditioning, and other basics. Today in America, nearly 140 million people, including 31 million children, are poor or near-poor; and the country has a growing trend of adults who work full time hours but are considered impoverished.

Low-wage work has fallen on the shoulders of women who, according to the National Women’s Law Center, make up 60% of the workforce. Low wage workforce typically pays $11 per hour; in jobs paying less than $10 per hour, women make up 70% of those workers. Women primarily are bearing the consequences of the Trump administration’s attack on social welfare programs in the United States, and that trend is only likely to continue, such as replacing SNAP benefits with a food delivery service and calling for additional Medicaid work requirements.

It is symbolic and important that the launch would begin on Mother’s Day, as women and mothers are those who most need the campaign to succeed.


(Photo Credit: Facing South) (Infographic Credit: National Women’s Law Center)

Censoring Clothing for Young Women in the United States and Beyond

Vidah Movahed

In protest to the obligatory hijab law, six Iranian women walked into public and removed their head covering, waving it for all to see. They followed protests by one woman who, on December 27th, was arrested for removing her hijab in solidarity with the White Wednesday campaign. Creator of the campaign, exiled Iranian journalist and activist in the United States, Masih Alinejad, reached out to Iranian women through social media via a website entitled My Stealthy Freedom; the website posts images of women consensually removing their head scarves, with a demand for an end to the compulsory scarf law.

Though relatively small in the number, the pop-up protests seem to be indicative of the angry censoring of both women and men’s personal conduct through Islamic laws. One of the protestors explained her decision to remove her scarf, “I’m tired of our government telling me what to do with my body.”

Lawyer and human rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh added, “It’s obvious that some women want to decide for themselves what to wear.” It seems that the public response to the Monday protest was not particularly negative. People applauded her, taxi drivers and older women took her picture while the police either did not see her or chose not to intervene.

Of the six women who protested on Monday, one was arrested for removing her head scarf. During the protest, some women waved white scarves, a symbol of Alinejad’s campaign. Another woman stood in the same spot where, on December 27th, Vida Movahedi was arrested for removing her head scarf; the protester was wearing a green ribbon, a likely supporter of the oppositional Green Movement.

While discriminatory practices in divorce and inheritance laws poses major problems for individual women, the head scarf is a highly public symbol, imposed upon the population by Iran’s clerical leaders; only they can decide the appropriate clothing that people can wear, what music they can listen to and which movies and televisions they can see. The laws affect both men and women. For example, men are unable to wear shorts in public. Both men and women have been arrested for violating the conduct laws. Under current president Hassan Rouhani, the morality police have largely been removed from the streets.

The protests are not a protest of the hijab, but a protest against the demands of controlling a woman’s body and the choices in what she decides to wear in the public sphere. They are protests against a government that censors women’s choices and wants to manage what they wear and where they chose to express themselves.

That phenomenon is not exclusive to Iran. The United States censors and disciplines girls deemed to have made `inappropriate’ clothing choices. Girls have been disciplined for showing their collarbone and shoulders. African American students have been penalized for wearing their hair in braids with extensions and have been suspended until they change their hairstyle or barred from prom, as happened to Mya and Deanna Cook last year in Malden, Massachusetts.

These cases and laws will continue to garner the appropriate outrage, because it is not a case of oppressive measures by outside countries for religion that has been negatively generalized. They are laws designed by men to make women and girls feel ashamed of themselves and regulate their clothing and, above all, their bodies.

Mya and Deanna Cook


(Photo Credit 1: New Yorker / Abaca Press) (Photo Credit 2: Buzzfeed)

No tax breaks for Amazon while warehouse employees are worked to death!

Amazon is searching for a city to house its second headquarters, and cities and states have laid incentive after incentive in a bid to court Amazon. Only Boston has publicly released its bid, but others states have begun to gift Amazon with tax breaks and tax credits, that range from a whopping $7 billion in tax subsidies for New Jersey if Newark is chosen, a reimbursement of nearly $7,500 per new Amazon worker if the company moves into the DC area, with a max of $30,000 per new job that is filled with military veterans. Illinois has all but gifted Amazon with a tax credit called EDGE, that, “allows qualified companies to keep 100 percent of the state income tax generated by their employees for up to 10 years.”

While states fall over themselves to give as many tax breaks to Amazon, the hope that the company would make good on its promise to provide $5 billion in construction and up to 50,000 permanent jobs seems a bit less meaty than what Amazon would get in return, as both liberal and conservative policy groups criticize the states’ bids. “The liberal New Jersey Policy Perspective and conservative Americans for Prosperity-New Jersey both opposed the incentives as a giveaway to a well-heeled company. ‘By putting at least $5 billion, and potentially several billion dollars more, in taxpayer dollars on the table so early in the game, New Jersey has ensured that its returns will be minimized if Amazon were to ultimately choose the state.’ Jon Whiten, vice president of New Jersey Policy Perspective, said in a statement.”

With a company whose CEO is now the richest man in the world, Amazon does not need more tax breaks and credits so that their shareholders can get wealthier, while warehouse workers are treated abysmally and dangerously. Amazon is facing fines from the death of two warehouse workers, and the state of Indiana has found four potential violations that could cost the company only $28,000, something that sadly seems like the cost of doing business. Around the country, Amazon warehouse workers have described the dangers of their working conditions as well as the near invisibility of those working in e-commerce businesses, where their problems and safety concerns are slipped under the rug by both consumer and company.

New Jersey has one of the largest population of warehouse workers, with Amazon having warehouse locations in Robbinsville, Edison, Logan and Cranbury, and is scheduled to open yet another warehouse in Teterboro in 2018. Employees work at the state’s minimum wage, with no benefits or health insurance, and with mandatory overtime. Employees must stand and work 10 to 12 hour shifts, and receive two unpaid 15 minute breaks and a 30-minute unpaid lunch break. Any slacking can result in immediate termination from the company. Thus far, efforts to unionize workers have been so far unsuccessful, but union workers hope to bring to consumers the people who work hard to bring them their packages in a timely fashion.

While Amazon continues to enjoy the promise of tax breaks and credits to bring their second headquarters to the states’ bids, we need to think about where those tax breaks are going, because it certainly isn’t going into the safety and wages of their employees. The promise of 50,000 jobs is not worth a growing income and wealth inequality between corporations as employees are worked to death!


(Infographic: The Street) (Photo Credit: North Jersey / Mitsu Yasukawa)

It’s Time to Recognize Food Industry Work as Work!

An imbalance of power has come into play with union member food service workers, unions, and the corporate elites who run business. Attempting to control and manipulate employees, employers have exerted their will over employees, trying to extract value from labor without paying enough for that labor. That happened with my old employer, A&P, which went into bankruptcy twice before closing its doors in 2015. The supermarket chain manipulated its employee by demanding they give back parts of their benefits, including pay cuts, vacation and sick days, while the corporate elites received six figure bonuses as incentive money to keep the business afloat.

Corporates use their power to control employees in several ways: by adhering to the stereotype of workers being young lazy workers who only work for disposable income; by promoting a more familial relationship so that more labor is extracted from the employee who then feels obliged to the team and family; and by obscuring rights and privileges that many employees could take advantage of. This way, when things go awry, unions are held accountable for not working hard enough.

As the food service industry has transitioned to an informal workforce, that workforce has been stereotyped as teenagers in entry level positions, lazy without any commitment to the company and who only use their paycheck as disposable income. Further, much food service work is described as mechanical and only done by unintelligent people. Of course, this is untrue. Nevertheless, these stereotypes justify low pay and extreme exploitation.

Working at a supermarket, I have seen the physical and mental, not to mention emotional, labor that goes into every day’s work. Work at grocery stores and fast food establishments keeps others fed and clean; without them people could not function. The job is physically and mentally demanding, and injuries run rampant, from carpal tunnel to back pain and bad knees. The job requires physical stamina, completely different from the stereotype of a lazy teenager ringing someone up behind a counter waiting only for payday.

While working as a part time worker, I was required to perform nearly four jobs in my title of bakery clerk. I was a cake decorator, customer service representative, stocker, and manager. At New Jersey’s minimum wage at the time, $8.50 an hour, I was on hand as a manager while my manager went out on disability. Managerial duties require knowledge of conducting inventories, ordering product, and onerous amounts of paperwork that were never checked but demanded to be done, and breaking down multiple 50 to 75lb boxes when loads are delivered, either three days a week in the winter to every day in the summer time. I had to complete all my tasks at 28 hours a week, the maximum hours for part timers. I did so to prove myself worthy of some full-time position that never came to fruition, and because the store manager trusted me with a higher-level task I felt honored to complete it.

Employers personalize relationships with their employees in order to extract more labor from them. By making them feel obligated outside of any contractual agreement, employees may feel the need to work harder, or work what wasn’t considered in their job descriptions. Many of my coworkers and I fell prey to this. We would feel obligated to work much hard than needs be, especially for the rate of pay we were given. A dairy clerk would act as a closing manager for $9.50 an hour; at a $10.00 rate, well below the living wage in the state of New Jersey, another woman worked as a front-end manager, book keeper, and handled customers at customer service. Those who worked the hardest for the lowest pay were women; thrust into jobs not technically in their contracts but paid substantially less than their male counterparts in the same jobs.

Despite the hard and draining work that is involved with providing food to the American people, food service workers are often overlooked, underappreciated, or consistently abused both by upper level management and customers alike. If we begin by legitimizing food service work as work, and not a starting off point for teenagers who need pocket money, and by discussing the gendered divisions that keep women working for less pay then men, we can begin to fight for better working conditions and pay with benefits for every worker in the commercial food industry.

(Image Credit: UFCW)

Despite Restrictions and Voter Suppression, African Americans Carry Alabama Forward

There was a morbid thought during the special election on December 12th, that Alabama would elect an accused pedophile, anti-gay and anti-abortion as Senator to replace Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions. As election results trickled in, it seemed that Alabamians would do just that; but in a surprise upset, Doug Jones won a senate seat that has not been occupied by a Democrat since 1992, and that was all thanks to Black women and Black men.

To say that African Americans faced an uphill battle getting to the polls is an understatement. As the election wore on, reports of voter suppression came in droves. By 3:24 pm, The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law voter hotline had received 235 calls. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund began collecting reports about people being put on inactive status, and either prevented from voting or given provisional ballots to cast their vote. To deter people from voting, police began showing up at polling stations, most notably in Montgomery, where in previous elections police checked voters for outstanding warrants.

Those were just the obstacles on election day. In 2011, Alabama passed one of the strictest voter ID laws in the country. Voters must have at least one of several specific kinds of photo ID to cast their ballot, including;

  • Driver’s License;
  • Non-Driver ID;
  • US Passport;
  • Student or employee ID at a college or university in Alabama; or
  • Military or Tribal ID

Under the guise of stopping voter election fraud, which rarely occurs, these laws disproportionately impact Black voters, who are often likely to have the means to obtain a voter ID. Since 25% of Alabama’s electorate is Black and Black residents tend to vote Democrat, having proper IDs was going to be crucial in this race. In a close election, the turnout that is impacted by voter ID laws, reducing it by a percentage point or two, could have swung the race.

Despite restrictions and reports of voter suppression, African Americans went to the polls, and gave Jones the votes he needed to eke out a victory over Moore. Over 98% of Black women and 93% of Black men voted for Jones, It was Black women and Black men who handed Jones his victory. Despite his anti-gay, sexist, racist, and homophobic rhetoric, despite multiple women accusing him of molesting them when they were teenagers, Moore was still able to capture a very sizeable portion of the white women vote.

White women, at this point we need to decide, right now, whether we want to join Black women and men and fight back against racism and sexism in politics, and everywhere, or continuously fight to maintain our white privilege in the face of rising gender inequality. We should not be fighting to put a child predator in the Senate; there shouldn’t have been a chance that would have happened. The fact that some women had to struggle, internally, to vote against Moore is egregious. And yet, here we are.

To the Democratic Party, there needs to be some serious discussion on how to give full representative voices to African Americans and minorities other than praying that they pull through during elections and save us from falling further away from common decency. We only give our thanks and strength to minorities when it benefits us politically; we are no closer to passing a clean DREAM Act, despite the fact that Democrats overwhelming voted to fund the government while undocumented minorities face the threat of deportation. Black communities are still reeling from mandatory minimums and three strike laws that were a part of Democratic President Bill Clinton’s “Tough on Crime” agenda, ballooning the already rising prison population and moving us into being one of the largest jailers in the world, and those incarcerated are disproportionately African American women and men. If you want to thank a Black woman or Black man for their part in the defeat of a child molester (especially since white men and women weren’t motivated to do so), start by addressing the damage that has been done to Black communities, and work to give back to them.

Today, we should be feel victorious. Tomorrow we need to work harder.

Lisa McNair, sister of one of the four girls killed in the 1963 church bombing, hears the news


(Image Credit: The Washington Post) (Photo Credit: The Root / Mickey Welsh)

Justice for Retail Workers this Holiday Season!

Retail worker Moriah Larkins advocates for Fair Work Week

This year, many partook in Black Friday shopping sprees, mobbing stores with the hope of purchasing high-tech gifts at low prices. They stampeded through Wal Marts, malls and department stores, leaving a path of destruction in their wake. Too often, little regard is given to the retail workers who stock the goods, ring customers up, and are forced to hear the verbal abuse of consumers while barely make enough to survive.

Nearly 16 million people work in the retail industry in America, an industry that seems to be in decline, which has lost more than 100,000 jobs. Online retailing has gained in popularity, and Wall Street has called in massive debts from the retail industry. However, the retail industry is one of the leading employers of workers; one in ten people work in retail, and more stores opened than closed in 2017.

Meanwhile, upward mobility for retail workers is nearly impossible, and many do not make enough in a forty-hour workweek to survive. Many retail employees are part time. Only 8% of retail workers have full-time jobs, with health insurance, at least $15 an hour wage, and paid time off. One in three workers has not received a raise in two years, and only 18% of part time workers move into managerial roles.

Additionally, there are no formal schedules, so work hours and times are constantly fluctuating, with part time work ranging from 13-29 hour per week. Those employees lucky enough to move up in the chains only did so because they dedicated their lives to the impossibly fluctuating schedule, citing “open availability” as one of the main factors that led them to promotions.

Organizers have been fighting back against these precarious positions. The Fight for $15 has dedicated to policy and legislation that raises state and ultimately federal minimum wages to $15 an hour, lifting many part time workers out of poverty. There have also been victories in the fight for paid vacations, paid sick leave, and the right to a stable workweek.

Fair Work Week Laws would allow employees to know their schedules two weeks in advance, and require overtime pay for hours worked with less than 10 hours of rest between shift. It also gives employees the right to request a flexible work schedule. Fair flexibility means employees would have a say in the times that they would be working, not what employers define a “flexible”, meaning ready to work 24/7 and at a moment’s notice.

So, this holiday season, while some are mobbing stores and treating retail employees poorly, remember how hard those employees work, and though they might be fighting and winning fair pay and a fair workweek, they still have a long way to go to be paid equally and fairly for the work that they have to complete.


(Photo Credit: Annie Sciacca / East Bay Times)

Chicago hotel housekeepers say NO! to workplace harassment … and win!

Unite Here members celebrate passage of Chicago ordinance protecting hotel workers from sexual harassment

While celebrities and politicians being accused of sexual harassment and sexual assault has brought workplace harassment into the national conversation, low wage workers, such as hotel housekeepers face similar instances of harassment cleaning hotel rooms and hope the conversation will help to end the harassment they’ve been fighting for years. Much less attention has been paid to the abuses and harassment low wage workers face, especially in the hotel industry.

A minibar attendant at a Chicago hotel, Cecilia walked to a guest’s door and was let in to a man masturbating at his computer. Given the satisfied look on the man’s face, it was clear that he had planned the encounter. Another guest once answered her knock by opening the door naked. “I felt nasty,” Cecilia recalled, “You’d expect that to happen to people in a jail but not in regular work. I felt like crying.” One of Cecilia’s colleagues confided that a guest tried to embrace her while in his room. Cecilia had to escort the housekeeper to security to report the incident.

Harassment in the workplace is not a new, or one-time, occurrence for housekeepers, who face abuses but are unable to report for fear of retaliation from an already exploitative work environment. Maria Elena Durazo, of Unite Here, has advocated for housekeepers to be given handheld, wireless panic buttons that can alert hotel security when a worker feels threatened: “Frankly, I don’t think much of the public understands what housekeepers go through just to clean these rooms and carry out the work.” The union won workers’ contracts to include the panic button, but the situation of sexual harassment for housekeepers is still dire. Durazo is now lobbying the city council to mandate them for all workers, union or not.

The panic buttons go a long way for workers to feel safe, but the imbalance of economic power between the harasser and survivors cannot solely be addressed by buttons. As Durazo argues, “We have to do something to equalize the power so that women really have the ability to speak up, without having to risk their livelihood. That goes for whether you’re a housekeeper or a food server or a big-time actor.”

To bring attention to the harassment of hotel and casino workers, Unite Here surveyed 500 of its Chicago area members. The majority surveyed were Latinx and Asian immigrants.

  • Nearly 58 % of hotel workers and 77% of casino workers had been sexually harassment by a guest;
  • 49 % of hotel workers said they had experienced a guest exposing themselves to the worker when answering their room door;
  • 56 % of casino cocktail servers said a guest had touched them, or attempted to touch them, without their consent;
  • Around 40% of casino workers had been pressured for a date or sexual favors by a guest.

Outfitting housekeepers with panic buttons started to receive attention and popularity after French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn was accused of assaulting housekeeper Nafissatou Diallo in a New York Hotel. Tet next year, the New York Hotel Trades Council won a contract for 30,000 workers that guaranteed the use of panic buttons for housekeepers.

The Chicago campaign to mandate panic buttons for the hotel industry received little resistance from the hotel lobby. President of the Chicago Federation of Labor Jorge Ramirez stated. “We didn’t see them out there with pompoms, but they didn’t speak out against it, either. I think the industry would have a hard time opposing this, especially with everything that’s come to light in the last few months.”

To mark the passage of the ordinance for panic buttons, housekeepers wore “No Harveys in Chicago” T-shirts, hoping that the buttons bring a sense of security and safety to women like herself and the younger housekeeper she had helped a couple months prior, because, “You shouldn’t be scared to work.”


(Photo Credits: Chicago Sun-Times / Fran Spielman)